Thursday, April 17, 2014

House Update: The Long Version

Where to start??

Everything has happened so fast!

The story so far:  Anticipating that Papa Rooster would be able to quit his sales/consulting/executive job and become full-time priest at Light of Christ sometime in the next year, we crunched some numbers and realized we needed to downsize in order to live on a much smaller salary. Even with all six kids presently living at home, four of them are 15 or over, so while downsizing may be cramp us all a bit in the short term, it seems reasonable for long-term living. It wasn't a decision based on numbers alone; we also felt like God was asking us to do it, which was the more important thing in our minds.

That was last year, and our target date to put the house up for sale was mid-March. Our hope and prayer was that the whole transition would go quickly and we'd be done selling, buying and moving early enough to still have a summer left over! We had our basement family room and two bedrooms repainted. I spent many hours spackling and touching up the paint in high-traffic areas. In February, a team of women from church helped wash walls, windows, woodwork, light switches and more. We had the carpets cleaned, and then while we were waiting for mid-March to arrive, I decided to post the house on Craigslist, just to see what might happen. Then someone told me you could list your house on Zillow, as a for sale by owner, so I did that too.

And we started having a few showings. First friends or friends-of-friends, none of whom were really ready to buy. Then we had several that came from agents who had seen it on Zillow. Our date in mid-March had arrived, and I was anxious about whether to go ahead and list it as scheduled with our realtor. The pace of the showings we were getting was so manageable, and both Papa Rooster and I were dreading listing it because we knew there would probably be a lot of showings on it initially, and all the activity of constantly cleaning and leaving just felt so out-of-synch with what we were calling everyone at Light of Christ to do during Lent--which was to enter into the season not with activity, but with increased time given to prayer and listening. We envisioned this as a "first chapter," a way to for our congregation to prepare for the next season, or "second chapter," after Lent when the leadership would begin to take more action toward figuring out how to bring Father Rooster on full-time.

But God moved faster than expected and brought us two offers at once, just three weeks after we listed the house on Zillow. One was for our full price, but had a home sale contingency; we negotiated with the other buyers and ended up settling on a price just under our asking price.

It all happened so fast that our hearts and minds could barely keep up. Suddenly we weren't sure about selling! Had we heard wrong? Were we really supposed to give up this house? We called on others to lift us up in prayer, and we started hearing back some great words of reassurance. "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." " what I am about to do, unfolding the plan that is already secure." "It is the offering up of your 5 loaves and 2 fishes...all that you had to feed yourself...a costly sacrifice, but watch what God will do with it!" We even found confirmation on the lips of our neighbor, the realtor we were going to list with, who said, "You really got that divine intervention thing goin' on, because let me tell you, NOBODY gets two offers at once and gets basically the asking price on their house just 3 weeks into a FSBO! That just NEVER happens. God must really be lookin' out for you!"

(Later, we began to wonder if we had not set our price high enough, even though it seems we did very well, but the interesting thing is that I didn't change anything on Zillow--nothing indicates that the house is under contract--and we have not had even one more inquiry since the day the buyers came through. Another confirmation, it seems, that God did it.)

So we have begun looking at houses. Papa Rooster and others in our church feel strongly that our next house will be in the same neighborhood as the Kemper Center, where our church meets--not just a 5 minutes' car ride near, but walking distance. Narrowing the neighborhood down that much makes this a pretty tall order for God to fill! The Kemper Center is right on Lake Michigan, so we can't look east of it at all. To the north just a few blocks is the commercial district of downtown. Most of our options lie west or south of it in what is called the historic district: Big old showplaces that need work, are overpriced and have really high taxes because they are so near the lake, or small bungalows, cottages or Victorians that need work, have high taxes and are too small for our family. Moderately sized, moderately priced homes are largely unavailable in this area.

We found one that we seriously considered for a couple days. It would have been quite a snug fit for all of us but it was doable because it had one thing that hardly any homes in this area have--a dry, square, finishable basement. We could have added two more bedrooms and a small office in the basement, and still kept the large family room that was already finished there. Plus there were three decent size bedrooms above ground, a kitchen beyond what I could ever have asked for or imagined, a 3-season sunroom, a gorgeous living room with hardwood floors and lots of windows, exactly what our ideal living room would look like, an attached garage (another thing that you just don't get in the historic district), two beautifully re-done full bathrooms...all on just a bit smaller scale than Papa Rooster was comfortable with. We invited friends from church to come, especially to look at the basement with us and make sure it was finishable as we wanted--which it was--but they all said they had trouble seeing us there; they thought it was just too small, and the layout didn't open it up enough on the main floor.

It was hard for me to accept, even though God actually woke me up and spoke to me in the middle of the night--even before our friends weighed in--telling me that this house was an Ishmael. I knew it was Him, I knew I was going to have to accept it, but when I woke up in the morning, I really struggled. I can totally believe that we can find something bigger, but I struggle to believe that we will find something bigger that is still affordable on a pastor's salary, and this house was already on the way upper end of affordable. And doggone it, even if this house was an Ishmael--not God's chosen way of providing for us, just as Abraham's son with Sarah's maid Hagar was not the son God had promised--it was an Ishmael I could totally love and be happy in! Our kids were so disappointed too. So many neat things about the corner lot and yard, the location, and the many charms of the house.

We have basically looked at all possibilities in the area now, and all we can do is wait for something new to come on the market. Thankfully, it's still early in the selling season, which seems to have been delayed this year because of the hard winter. Our closing date, when we have to have all our belongings out of our house, looms just six weeks from today. It's been so difficult for me to even think about packing, since I don't know where we and our stuff are headed next. Friends have offered to put us all up in their home for a transition time of a few weeks, but where should we store all our stuff--short-term, or long-term? Will we end up needing to rent something for a while? What to store, what to get rid of, what can be inaccessible indefinitely, what will we need access to?

So I haven't began packing, really. It's Holy Week, and Father Rooster and I are doing our best to push house worries away and enter into the journey, which began last night with a beautiful Maundy Thursday service. We washed each other's feet, and I am grateful to say that he has handled my conflicting emotions and disappointment so well, in a way that has pulled me closer to him rather than separating us. He's had a sense all along that we wouldn't find our next house before Easter, and I am doing my best to trust and have faith.

Today, we have a Stations of the Cross service this afternoon, and a Good Friday service tonight. Tomorrow, I have a full morning of final run-throughs and sound checks for the Easter Vigil readings that I am directing. I think they are all going to be really good again this year, and not because everything is super well-rehearsed--it's not--but I can just sense that the Holy Spirit is going to fill each one beyond what we have rehearsed or can give in our own abilities! Plenty of cracks for Him to fill in. :)

I am also excited that Chicklet's friend, mentioned in the last post, is being baptized at the Vigil, and her whole family is coming! Her mom came with her to Palm Sunday last week and really enjoyed it. We really loved their family; we got to know them better when we had them over to discuss the baptism. We all agreed that our daughters' friendship has been such a special thing for both of them--they are two sweet peas in a pod! A big bummer for the two of them that we are moving. We will have to go to extra lengths to get them together. 

A blessed Holy Weekend to all!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Watching God Work

It's been an exciting Lent so far!

That's not one of the usual adjectives to describe Lent, I realize. But it's been true this year. As a church, we've been calling our congregation to pray very specifically this Lent for Kenosha and our church's role here. We take our name, Light of Christ, literally. We long to be Christ's light dispelling the darkness of a depressed city and of lives that are shadowed by darkness and hopelessness.

We have been meeting in groups throughout the week to pray. Though I haven't been part of all these meetings, it's been exciting--there's no other word for it--to hear how God has been leading folks to pray, and how He is answering those prayers!

I can't tell other people's stories, but just in the past week, several things happened that I can share. On Sunday, one of Chicklet's friends came to church with us. Afterwards, she told Chicklet she had never been baptized and she wanted to be! The next day Blondechick21 talked with her about what it all meant, and prayed with her to commit her life to the Lord. The odd thing was, we weren't praying specifically for this little girl; we had never even thought to invite her to church before, I must confess. But we had been praying specifically for God to send another friend for Chicklet at our church, since one of her church friends had moved away. On the same Sunday that this new friend came, we found out that Chicklet's one remaining friend at church is also moving away, which would have left her the only girl her age at church. But now she has this new friend, if her parents allow her to keep coming with us. And even if they don't...look what praying that specific prayer for Chicklet brought about in her sweet friend's life!

Then at Campus Life this week, at the public high school that B15 and B18 attend, a whole bunch of kids gave their lives to the Lord. It was a move of the Spirit--the leaders just invited people to come forward if they needed prayer for burdens to be lifted. Kids started pouring forward, to the point that the guitarist, who was just strumming, asked B18 to take over so he could go help pray for people. I can't help but wonder if B18's ministry in music, then, became a factor, since I believe when gifted people are operating in their gifts, the Spirit's power is poured out! (And it's become clear recently that B18 is not only musically gifted, but also spiritually gifted to minister through music--another exciting thing to see!) Our sons never heard an exact number of kids who prayed to receive Christ, but they both say "it was a lot."

Another incident this week was a conversation I had with a mom who didn't know if she had ever been baptized. Should she be? She had never really thought about it. Her kids weren't baptized and she didn't know if her husband ever had been. I told her different denominations have different beliefs about sacraments, but that just as most of us all agree that taking communion is important (though we may not agree on how often), baptism is the other sacrament that most denominations would agree is important, if not necessary. We talked about what the Bible says about it, that it goes hand in hand with salvation. And like Eucharist, if the Lord even just strongly suggested it...why wouldn't you? She sounded eager to discuss it with her husband, and--who knows?-- maybe that whole family will be baptized now, because of that conversation.

Finally, our house. Along with all this prayer going on, there has been a sense of preparation for the things God is going to do at our church, including the provision for how to pay a full-time rector. (Hearing last week that one of our key families is moving away did not seem like a step in the right direction, either!)  But it's not a time to act, to plan, to figure it out; it's a season to pray and to prepare. The fulfillment will come later.

In prayer, we decided not to take action with our house right now either. We were going to list it with a realtor this weekend, but we will wait till Lent is over and list on the Friday after Easter. It is still informally for sale by owner--I've listed it on Craigslist and on Zillow, and we've had about one showing a week through those avenues--so if God wants to bring us a buyer during Lent, He certainly still could. But during Lent we won't have that flurry of activity and stress that comes when you first list a house, and I'm praying that it won't be needed at all--that the right buyer would come along before then, and that we would be able to sell with the bare minimum of effort and stress on our family. In any case, we invite you join us in prayer for the right buyer to come along in exactly God's timing, especially when our next house, which I know God is preparing for us even now, is available!

Meanwhile, we have a little more time to chip away at projects that need doing in the house. Why does it seem like no matter how much I get done, the list stays the same length??

Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement of seeing You work! May others be encouraged also, toward prayer, toward trust, toward faith in You..

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

New Season, New Deacon

It's Ash Wednesday, and we had a somber, silent service. We are in the season of Lent now.

But last Sunday, it was a joyful celebration as we ordained one of our own to the office of deacon.

Here he is, with his family--and with our new Bishop, on his first episcopal visit to Light of Christ!

An ordination is a pretty special service.

You can't tell at this angle, but there are three women in the crowd above laying hands on and praying aloud for our ordinand. I'm one of them!

Our kids, who remember Bishop Stewart a bit from our old church, were the first to step up close to him when he called the children forward.

But none of the kids were shy when the Bishop asked them for a group hug!

The Light of Christ clergy team with their bishop. (Father Rand, on the far right, has his own church now, a seedling plant out in Big Rock, IL, but he's been a partner at LOC so long--he comes faithfully, once a month or so--that we still happily claim him!)

Deacon Luke will be ordained Father Luke eventually, Lord willing...and then who knows where God will take him? But for now, we are so happy to have him serving as deacon at Light of Christ!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February News

Oh my. I really am in trouble if I'm down to once-a-month posts!

But there are reasons....

To kick off the month, two more birthdays! We held simultaneous birthday gatherings for the newly-minted Bantam15 and his friends--in the basement, watching a movie--and the new Bantam9--in the big bedroom, building Lego creations. We served pizza in shifts and then birthday brownies and ice cream. Friends of B18 and Blondechick stopped in, so we fed them too. The more the merrier!

B15 has recently become fascinated with the land of Norway, since he is one-quarter Norwegian. He asked for and received a wallet with the Norwegian flag AND the Norwegian coat of arms as embellishments. We also gave him a travel guide of Norway, which he has found most engaging. His big gift, however, was a phone. It's a hand-me-down, older phone that used to be his brother's, without internet and without texting. But at least I no longer have to call his friend's phones to find out where he is or work out how he's getting home, which was getting embarrassing. Yup, I had all his friend's cell numbers in my Contacts!

B9 wanted little green army men and a B9-sized army gun. Check! He also wanted Legos, so we suggested that his friends chip in toward a biggish set to be purchased AFTER we move, hopefully, since Mom is in major decluttering mode now and was not keen for him to receive another half-dozen smaller Lego sets as birthday gifts. He also asked for The Action Bible, a graphic novel-like retelling. His grandparents had given him the Action New Testament last year for Christmas and he loved it so much that he wanted the whole thing, including the Old Testament. It appears to me that it was his favorite gift!

In other news, we are getting our house ready to put on the market. Our church is still figuring out how they are going to do it financially (that's a prayer request, if you think of it!) but the plan is for Father R to go full-time in the next year, and we feel strongly that we should downsize before that, if possible.

So I've been pushing hard to declutter, deep-clean and get some painting done. The only way I've been able to work on it--and still keep homeschooling and teaching my classes--is to chip away at it in all my free moments. (Thus my lack of time to spend blogging!) I've spent days with my kids culling their stuff and organizing their rooms. I've forced myself to deal with all the stuff I've shoved in the closet and under the bed in my own room. I've rearranged kitchen and bathroom cabinets to make room for many things we ordinarily leave out, so these areas will show well--and be easier to clean quickly! I cleaned out one of our storage rooms and got rid of many things we've been--well--storing. I've been using our 15-passenger van as a temporary storage unit for stuff heading to St. Vincent DePaul's, our charity thrift store of choice--and we filled it up! It feels good to lose weight.

I've had help too. Ladies from church came over to help wash walls, woodwork, light switches, window panes and crevices, which was such a help! We hired a friend to paint the basement (last fall) and two bedrooms this winter. I've been busy spackling, paint-matching and touching-up many dents and dings all over the hallways, doorways and walls. The older kids are doing bathrooms and cleaning up their bedrooms. B23 boxed up many books, went through files and drawers and found lots that he could part with. (He reported the same feeling of losing weight in his life!) Papa Rooster will be doing the same in his office storage area. Chipping away is not his cleaning style, so he'll take a day off of work here sooner or later to get it done. I hope one day is enough; he has a lot of stuff to get through!

The plan is to list the house in mid-March, after The Wizard of Oz closes--and we are in tech week already! I've been helping with lights this time and learning a whole new vocabulary. Did you know you can patch lights, as well as park and bump them? Stage lights don't have light bulbs; they have lamps. I am learning the limitations and abilities of technobeams, LEDs, pars, fresnels and gobos. It's overwhelming, especially programming them, but also quite fascinating and--oh yes, I have to say it--illuminating!

It's good knowledge to have if I continue directing shows--and I am excited to be on another directing team for the spring! Chicklet and I (and maybe B15) will head north to the Milwaukee chapter of our Spotlight theater group. They are doing a show called Pridelands, inspired by The Lion King. I will be assistant director, and as a little relief from cleaning and teaching, I've been reviewing the script and DVD's of past performances, and bouncing ideas off the head director. We have such a stimulating Facebook message thread going with all our ideas for the show!

So my spring could be pretty busy, especially if our house sells quickly. But it could also take a year, as our old house did, and this is a more unique house. With the bedroom and office spaces we added in the basement, it has a total of 7 bedrooms, plus 4.5 baths. Please pray for the right buyer, as well as the right house for us to move into! We've looked a little--enough to know we will be able to find something--but the priority has been to get this house ready first. We've had a couple people come look at it already, before it's listed, and it would be great if one of them bought it, since we wouldn't pay a realtor's commission in that case. 

I forgot to take "before" pictures, but maybe I'll have some "after" photos to post soon. But this week--and for the next two weekends--we're off to see the Wizard!

Monday, January 27, 2014

January News

You know you're neglecting your blog miss two family birthdays!

Mine was back on January 9th. I treated myself to a morning alone at Panera; all six kids ate dinner with us--a rare occurrence these days--and Chicklet11 made me birthday brownies. Everyone gave me handmade cards with sweet notes in them, and most indulged my request to play a game of Trivial Pursuit together. A great day!

Eldest Bantam turned 23 on January 21st. His birthday fell on a Tuesday, which is the day that B8, C11 and I are gone all day at Classical Conversations, with just an hour or so before classes at Spotlight Youth Theater. So we had birthday dinner the night before. Once again, we had everyone around the table, at least for 20 minutes or so! (Blondechick had to leave before pecan pie, the birthday dessert he chose, which B14 helped to make!)

He asked for and received a couple of Halo books and an official Halo hoodie. He is so proud of it, and he looks very handsome in it.

But his big gift was one he bought himself, from a friend--a secondhand XBox 360 and a subscription to a gaming site. He has been waiting a long time for this, and he's so excited.

We had actually promised to buy him one if he could get his weight down to 170, which he has not quite achieved. He was at 250 after his first year in college, and he easily got back down to 200, his pre-college weight, but he's been stuck there ever since. He knows our fear is that the XBox will encourage him to be more sedentary, so ever since his friend offered him this deal, he's been demonstrating a renewed commitment to exercise and low-carb, veggie-heavy lunches. He lost 8 pounds in about 10 days and it's noticeable in his face. So hopefully he'll keep it up, to prove to us that we didn't make a mistake in allowing him to have it early!

I mentioned theater classes. This session I'm teaching Drama 1, with a Charlie Brown theme. B8 is in my class--one of just two boys--and he's Charlie Brown in our showcase skit. (I asked another drama teacher to help me with casting of the boys, to be sure of impartiality!) B14 is taking Improv Prep. If he makes the cut at the end of the session, he'll be on the Kenosha Improv Team next session, and compete again in June, as he did last year. Chicklet11 auditioned for and made the Project Dance Jr. class, which is a two-session commitment, so she'll be taking it again this spring. She is learning lots of technique and really loving it. She begged to be allowed to take another class besides dance, so I let her take a voice class which is performing songs from Thoroughly Modern Millie for Showcase. She is so happy to learn the words to songs she heard me practicing last summer!

Rehearsals have been going on for The Wizard of Oz, as well. Chicklet11 is excited to be the Coroner of Munchkinland, with little solos and one big one: "As Coroner, I must aver, I've thoroughly examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." She's also a Jitterbug Dancer, which will be a fun number! B8 is a member of the Lollipop Guild, which gets me, because that's the same part that B18 had back when he was B9. He is also a Flying Monkey, which he's really excited about, because they get to wear Heelys onstage! I am so thankful I bought a pair at Goodwill a couple years ago, even though they were too big for him then. They're expensive!

B14 is a Jitterbug Dancer (fun for him and Chicklet to have the same part--a first!), a Winkie one of (the Witch's guards) and a Tree who throws apples at Dorothy to frighten her and sings back-up harmonies to the Tin Man's solo. He will be wearing stilts for that scene, and on the first day they were practicing with them, it was a little more exciting than anyone expected.

After he and his friend had the hang of them, they jacked them up to the highest setting, about 4 feet off the ground. He was doing fine until he tripped on a folding chair leg, stumbled into other folding chairs and finally fell forcefully into a glass window. He bounced away from it as he hit it, but the window shattered and he was cut on his hand and arm and just nicked his chin. Fortunately, it was right at the end of rehearsal, and I was only two minutes away. (I often send B23 to get them, but this time I was the one coming to pick them up--thank the Lord!) There were other parents there too, arriving to pick up their kids, including a nurse who was helping to stop the bleeding when I arrived. We went to the ER and determined that he did not need stitches. We deferred an X-ray on his sore knees--at worst, he might have a patella fracture but it seems more likely that nothing was broken.

He was really shaken up, and we all were so aware of how life-threatening the accident could have been. We are so thankful to God for his protection, and that his injuries are so minimal.

On the plus side, now he has a great story to tell, with a scar to prove it! How many people can say that they've fallen through a glass window while wearing stilts??

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Classical Conversations Booklist--Cycle Two, Middle Ages

This fall I decided to try making a photo record of the books we've read for homeschooling. I am always asking Chicklet11 and B8 to keep a list of books they read, which they never do, and I haven't been much better myself. This is the first year since we started homeschooling that I am not keeping detailed records of everything we do each day, since I consider the Classical Conversations (CC) program and curriculum comprehensive enough, with our added math program; what I've done at home is flesh out the CC memorized concepts. So if I had to show someone what we've covered, it's all there in the CC manuals. I have to say that it's given me a new freedom to follow our nose on whatever threads we are most interested in, and since we're not doing daily workbooks, the kids think it's a treat when I have an appointment and I leave them a list of workbook pages to do!

But I did want something to remind me of all we've enjoyed together, and I was inspired to take a photo before I returned a bunch of library books. Then I tried to remember what we had read previously and gather those books together too. I haven't photographed any of the kids' free reading choices, but these are most of the books we've read together.

These are all books we're reading on an ongoing basis. My absolute favorite of these is A Child's History of the World, by Hillyer. (So much more enjoyable to read aloud than The Story of the World, in my opinion. I would lose the kids' attention when I read SOW, but they don't want me to stop reading CHW!)

The Usborne Book of World History is a great pictoral, summarizing resource that we've used on and off for years. I am really impressed with A Child's Introduction to Poetry, which came with Chicklet's virtual school curriculum last year. It has a two- or three-page spread on each major poet or poetry type, with sample poems, explanations of vocabulary and images, whimsical illustrations and includes a CD. I especially like how it delves into what a sonnet is or what a limerick is, giving lots of examples.

Tales of the Not Forgotten is a favorite with my little mission-minded girl. The tales are pretty long so we break them up, but I tend to take breaks in between each one. I'm not sure I really like The Everyday Bible. I heard it recommended as a good Bible for younger kids to read aloud because it's written at a 6th grade reading level and the vocabulary is aimed at brand-new Christians, but you definitely lose beauty and familiarity of language. We've been reading Mark aloud, taking turns reading, but we're going to switch to one of Paul's letters after the semester break, to see if I like it any better.
This photo documents a departure from the Middle Ages, back when we were doing the musical Hercules, and they just HAD to read some other Greek myths too! They read all of these to themselves, so I can't really comment as to quality, but they enjoyed them all. They also browsed D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, a perpetual favorite here.

They read all of these to themselves too. They especially liked the Sir Gawain stories. These were a follow up to the Arthurian stories below.

I read all of these aloud to the kids, except for the red Martin Luther biography which I made both of them read to themselves (since we had it on our shelves, it was short, and it fit our time period). All the rest I can highly recommend. If you've never read any of the D'Aulaire's fine books, you must hie thee to a library forthwith! The Robert D. San Souci books about Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin were wonderful too--really well-written with beautiful illustrations. 

I reviewed Spy for the Night Riders, exciting historical fiction with Martin Luther as a main character, here.We really enjoyed it, and we started another of the Trailblazer books right away! Starry Messenger is science in a Caldecott-winning disguise--elaborate illustrations with tiny text of Galileo's own words; it's all about Copernicus' theories and Galileo's discoveries. Michelangelo is by Diane Stanley, my favorite author of illustrated children's biographies. Michelangelo's story was great, but I see I forgot to photograph my absolute favorite bio by her, Joan of Arc. B8 was so transfixed by her story that he stopped coloring to come sit next to me, hanging on every word. I didn't realize that transcripts of her trial still exist, so this biography was fully fleshed out with her own words. Riveting!

Here are a few of our science books for the semester, since we started studying space. The Reasons for Seasons and The Moon Book are both by Gail Gibbons. The Childcraft volumes have been fun too. How We Get Things tells how things are produced or how they were invented. Look Again is more of an art book; just realized, we haven't actually read it yet! They read other Easy Reader science books to themselves too; I just didn't round them all up.

And before we move off of science, I must proudly record the fact that we dissected owl pellets this semester. They were sent to us by Chicklet's virtual school last year, but we pulled out before we got to that unit. Though she kept begging to dissect them, I kept putting it off. This year we decided it would make a perfect family presentation for CC--and it was!

Last group. Peter the Great is another excellent Diane Stanley biography. Gutenberg was a library book with nice illustrations, but as a biography it just didn't have that magic that I look for in a good one. The Golden Treasury of Poetry is one of many poetry anthologies we own, but this one includes seasonal poems, so I pulled it out to read all the Christmas poetry. (I posted one on Christmas Day!)

B8 loved Days of the Knights, an Eyewitness Reader with lots of sidebar information and detailed drawings. Medieval World is another Usborne Book; I like to flip through it and point out things we've memorized for CC and help them see how it all ties together. (It's a nice pictoral supplement to A Child's History of the World.)

But my favorite resource in this photo is Tales from Shakespeare. Written in 1807 by Charles and Mary Lamb, they retain the Shakespearean vocabulary and turns of phrase while abridging and explaining the story for children (and fortunate adults--this is such a great way to enjoy Shakespeare!). The sentence structure is so complex that they can be challenging to read aloud--but I enjoy them more for that.

I would encourage anyone who is homeschooling (or "afterschooling") to supplement curriculum with these types of picture books, even if your kids are reading chapter books. First of all, they are a nice length to snuggle up with and read aloud for a short period, even if it takes a couple sittings for some of the longer ones. Even older kids enjoy the pictures, and the images help them remember facts. Also, there is no better way to introduce or review complex history or science, I think, than in a kids' book that highlights the main points so you easily recognize them as such. I love the Usborne and Eyewitness books for that reason.

We are eager for second semester to begin! I have a basket of books for us to choose from.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books Read in 2013

In Sunshine and In Shadow (Mark Helprin)
This may be my favorite novel by this wonderful author. It's about an unlikely New York City romance between a wealthy blue-blood singer/actress and a young Jewish man returned from the war to find his father's leather goods factory on the verge of financial ruin. There is something exquisite on every page of this book, whether it's in a character description, a circumstance, a well-crafted metaphor or a poignant moment. Fresh and so beautiful.

A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
(Alan Bradley)
I have a soft spot for 11-year-old detective Flavia DeLuce, a smarty-pants chemist who lives on a British estate her father can't afford to keep up. Her private lab, inherited from a dead ancestor and located in an unheated wing of the huge old house, is the site of her precocious criminal investigations. Especially delightful read aloud by British reader Jayne Entwhistle.

Agatha Christie's
The ABC Murders (Poirot)
And Then There Were None
Crooked House
At Bertram's Hotel
(Miss Marple)
Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple)
Halloween Party (Miss Marple)
When I'm in a hurry at the library, I grab an Agatha Christie for my audio selection. They are so reliably enjoyable and well-written. We listened to And Then There Were None on a road trip--my favorite of the ones I read this year--and the kids (the younger three) were totally engaged and intrigued. We didn't quite finish before the trip ended, so we sat around in the living room and listened to the final CD for another hour after we got home. (Unheard of!) Then we had to go research on Wikipedia to find that there are multiple film versions, and we wanted to watch them all. (Hmmm, we should get going on that project!)

La's Orchestra Saves the World (Alexander McCall Smith)
Set during World War II, this is a delicate story about a young woman, forced by circumstances to leave London and move to the countryside, who does what she can to support the war effort; she raises vegetables, works for a chicken farmer, and starts an orchestra.

O. Henry's Complete Short Stories
I love short stories, and O. Henry is a master. Deft character development and a surprising climax are features of most of his delightful tales of love, family, life, death and villainry.

Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
This delightful classic is a nice length for kids. Listened to this (a second time) on a short road trip with the younger three kids and they really enjoyed it the characters and story.

By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
We are slowly getting through the Little House series! We keep taking breaks to read other books. I enjoyed Farmer Boy more this time around. It was so interesting to see the contrast between his family and Laura's, especially the comparative wealth and variety of food and clothing options that a stable farming way of life could bring. Makes you realize how much poor Ma gave up to move all over the West with Pa, starting over again every few years.

Tom Sawyer
Huckleberry Finn
(Mark Twain)
I grabbed the audiobook of Tom Sawyer at the library because our theater group was performing the musical version. I ended up listening to most of it alone, and I decided to follow it up with Huck Finn, which I had not read since I was in junior high, when I didn't enjoy it a bit. I think I was just desperate for reading material at the time, and I was probably too young for it. It's more of a convoluted tale than Tom Sawyer, and a more serious work. Tom Sawyer is tighter, more light-hearted and a better read for younger kids, but there is more meat for discussion in Huckleberry Finn.

Karen Kingsbury's
Redemption series (Redemption, Remember, Return, Rejoice, Return)
Firstborn series (Fame, Forgiven, Found, Family, Forever)
Sunrise series (Sunrise, Summer, Someday, Sunset)
The Chance
When Joy Came To Stay

Obviously I was on a Karen Kingsbury kick here for awhile! I had read the Firstborn series before--it's about the director of a youth theater group patterned after the one my kids are involved in--and I had always meant to read the Redemption series, which came before. So I snapped it up when someone offered it to me, and then I had to re-read the Firstborn series and follow the characters on through the Sunrise series. These are moving stories about believable characters facing real-life tests of faith and family. I was not crazy about The Chance--seemed so contrived--but When Joy Came to Stay was a well-framed story about mental health issues (depression) and the power of transparency before God and man.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ian Fleming)
The three younger kids and I really enjoyed listening to this on a road trip. It was interesting to compare the book with the movie and discuss why the film makers made some variant choices in order to make a better movie than if they had stuck to the book.

The Art Thief (Noah Charney)
This audiobook was near the Agatha Christies in the library, and I took a chance on it because I enjoy art books and mysteries, and this was both. As a mystery it was just okay. But since the author is a professor of art history and an expert in art criminology, and he managed to lecture a good bit one way or another, I found it an interesting read about art, artists and art thieves.

The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
For years I've had this little gem on my shelf and never read it! So glad I finally did. I can see why J.K. Rowling called it her favorite book that she read as a child. There was not much about the horse--to my slight disappointment, since I loved horse books as a child--but it's a most satisfying fairytale filled with wonderful characters, a castle, a cottage and more. Delightful; I can't wait for Chicklet to read it.

The House of Dies Drear (Virginia Hamilton)
Another road-trip audiobook. The younger three really liked this because of the ghostly hauntings and the mystery aspect; I thought the treatment of blacks in 1968 was well-described and thought-provoking. Educational and entertaining--a win-win.

Five Children and It
(E. Nesbit)
Another one of those children's classics that I've owned and never read until now. What if you could be granted a new wish every morning, one that would disappear at sundown? And what if things kept going wrong with your wish? Clever, funny, thought-provoking and very enjoyable.

An Unquiet Mind
by Kay Redfield Jamison
This is the autobiography of a clinical psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder, who has the disorder herself. Informative, intriguing and sympathetic.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
(Jen Hatmaker)
Nonfiction has to be pretty entertaining for me to get through a whole book. I do fine with articles, but it takes me years to finish nonfiction full-length books. I read this one in record time, though, because the author--a pastor's wife and popular speaker and blogger--is hilarious, and the topic really resonated with my own philosophy (which I am just beginning to articulate and apply to more and more things in my life) that "less is more." She picked seven areas to limit, for a month at a time. She gave herself only seven food choices, allowed herself only seven clothing items, only spent money in seven stores, fasted from seven media types, gave away seven things a day for a month, adopted seven "green" habits to reduce waste in her life, and mutinied against stress by observing seven "sacred pauses" a day (basically praying the liturgical hours). Entertaining and thought-provoking.

Though Mountains Fall
(Dale Cramer)
This is the sequel to Paradise Valley (which I read last year) about an Amish community that forms in Mexico, loosely based on the author's own family history. I enjoyed both as audiobooks, something to listen to while cooking.

Spy for the Night Riders (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer books feature famous Christian historical figures. This one was written from the perspective of a young student/clerk of Martin Luther's, who accompanies him to the Diet of Worms where he was accused of heresy, and is with him on the return journey when Luther was apprehended by friends and whisked away to live in safety at Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German. It was quite exciting, with every chapter ending in a cliff hanger which had B8 and Chicket begging me to keep reading, and it dovetailed nicely with our history studies of the Middle Ages for Classical Conversations, which included mention of the Protestant Reformation. We own a lot of the Trailblazer series, but the older kids never ate them up. I think it's because I never read them aloud and it seems that is the best way to enjoy them!

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
I've read this, I've listened to the radio drama, but the best way to experience The Screwtape Letters is to listen to John Cleese read them. (I have it on cassette tapes, but I just googled and discovered it's on YouTube now!) I think this is one of Lewis' finest books, giving such perspective on the role of the church, God's love for his creation, His plan for mankind, resisting the devil and recognizing his machinations, even re-casting death's role in life--all with such clever humor and logic! A remarkable book.

The Whipping Boy (Sid Fleischman)
Listened to this children's book with just Chicklet in the car, somehow--oh, it was driving back and forth to Hercules rehearsals, while B14 preferred to listen to his iPod. She loved this story of a spoiled prince and his scrappy whipping boy who end up running away from the palace and living on the streets, where the prince finally learns to behave like one. It was a nice addition to our history studies of the Middle Ages this year.

Pullman Car Hiawatha (Thornton Wilder)
This one-act play really impressed me. I'd love to direct it somehow, somewhere. Our Town has always been a play that deeply moves me, and PCH seems like a precursor to Our Town, with seeds of ideas that Wilder developed more fully in later plays. It takes place on a train traveling across the Midwest. One of the passengers dies, and then in Wilder's magical realistic way, we pull back and see the event from a geographical, theological, cosmological, meteorological perspective represented by characters like a farmhand in Ohio, a hobo living under a bridge that the train passes over, and the planets.

Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Clyde Fitch)
This three-act play was in the same anthology of American playwrights as Pullman Car Hiawatha, and I thought it a fine little light-hearted Victorian romantic comedy.

Entwined (Heather Dixon)
This audiobook was on last year's list too; I thought Chicklet and B14 might enjoy it in the car, as we traveled for the holidays, and they did. It's a well-embellished retelling of the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with a lot of other interesting characters besides the princesses. (I have a dream project in mind based on this book--I think it would make a great musical for our youth theater group!)

Sister Wendy's Book of Meditations (Wendy Beckett)
Sister Wendy, art critic and Catholic nun, meditates on the themes of Silence, Love, Joy, and Peace, illustrated by a beautiful piece of artwork on each page. This book has taught me how to appreciate abstract art more than I ever could have on my own, and the meditations always settle me into a place of peace and joy.

Though I can't say I read any of them entirely, I also read, on something close to a daily basis, the Bible, Jesus Calling, the Divine Hours, Reader's Digest, and The Week (the magazine), plus many articles and blog posts recommended by Papa Rooster and my Facebook friends.

The kids and I did a lot of reading together as well, and I am working on another post covering our explorations of the Middle Ages and other topics covered in our Classical Conversations curriculum this school year.

Overall, it was a good year of reading!  For more book lists, visit Semicolon's special edition year-end booklist round-up!

Happy New Year, Happy Blogiversary

Eight years ago on New Year's Eve, I started this little blog.

It's been a busy year, and it's a busy night. We have friends here to eat, pray, play Scrabble, watch Call The Midwife and see the New Year in. 

I haven't been able to keep up with blogging as well as I used to; I know things slowed down significantly this past year. But still, blogging seems to me to be something worth doing, so I shall endeavor to continue, with God's help.

It's been my tradition to invite your comments to help encourage and celebrate with me. It's always a treat to hear from long-time readers as well as new ones. Anything you'd like to share about yourself, suggestions, questions, compliments or observations are all welcome and so encouraging!

Happy 2014 to you all!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Everywhere

 Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!
Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine,
Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine,
Christmas where snow peaks stand solemn and white,
Christmas where cornfields stand sunny and bright.

Christmas where children are hopeful and gay,
Christmas where old men are patient and gray,
Christmas where peace, like a dove in his flight,
Broods o'er brave men in the thick of the fight;
Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight!

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all;
No palace too great, no cottage too small. 

~Phillips Brooks

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

"The Herdmans were the worst kids in the whole history of the world." That's the first line of this play, spoken by the main character, Beth. Alice and Maxine (Chicklet) chime in with anecdotes.

"And they wrote this really dirty word on the back of Naomi Waddell's favorite turtle, so now Naomi can't take it to the YMCA pet show. Her mother won't let her. ...And that's not all. They did it with fluorescent paint, so it glows in the dark. When you can't even see the turtle, you can still see the word."

The other blondie with Chicklet is her best friend, but they fooled everybody into thinking they were sisters!
Maxine in Sunday School, prior to casting the Christmas Pageant. "There are no small parts, just small actors," the class parrots, but they admit they don't know what it means.

"I know what it means!" Maxine declares. "It means the short kids have to be in the front row of the angel choir, or else nobody can see them!"

Then the Herdmans show up and volunteer for everything. Here Claude (B8), Ollie and Leroy volunteer to be Wise Men. "What's a Wise Man?" Claude asks.

Me as Mrs. McCarthy, helping spread the gossip. "Did you hear about the Christmas Pageant? ...How else could the six of them end up in a Christmas Pageant, when they ought to be in jail!"

The Herdmans toss around the Baby Jesus as they debrief about their morning in Sunday School.

Imogene says, "Well, [if I were Mary] I wouldn't hang around out in the barn. I'd go get a room." Claude retorts, "She said there wasn't any room!" "Then I'd throw somebody out!"

Mrs. McCarthy interrupts the dress rehearsal to let Mom know the ladies are making applesauce cake in back. Mom takes the opportunity to ask if she could borrow my niece for the Baby Jesus and I react in horror. "Grace...NO! I could make up some lie and tell you the baby's sick or cranky or something, but the truth is, she's perfectly healthy and happy and beautiful, and we all want her to stay that way. So we're certainly not going to hand her over to Imogene Herdman!"

Then I discover smoke in the ladies' room and call the fire department. It's just cigar smoke--Imogene Herdman was smoking cigars in the Mary costume in the ladies' room--but the applesauce cake burns up. (That's B8 on the back of our friend the fireman, the father of Chicklet's blonde friend.)

The actual pageant, with Maxine as the Pageant Narrator. 
(Memorizing her lines doubled as Scripture memory! ;)

A total stranger asked me afterwards, "Was the Narrator your daughter?" I asked how she could tell, and she said, "She looks just like you!" Best compliment ever.

Of course the Wise Men would have had binoculars, right? And that's a ham Leroy is holding in his other hand. B8 follows with his imaginary prop, a gold box. (Good thing it was a dress rehearsal!)

(click to enlarge)
A lovely tableaux. Gold, frankincense, and ham.

(In the script Beth says the ham was such a sensible present, and I never even questioned it. But my husband, raised in the New York City area where he was a minority because he wasn't black or Jewish, pointed out that a ham was not something that a good Jewish couple would even touch. Oops.)

"The Women" debrief after the pageant. "The best one we ever had...and I'm not sure why...."

Cast photo!

The "twins" mug for the camera.

B8 rockin' the Wise Man costume.

It was the best Christmas pageant ever!!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Twenty-Seven Years

It's our anniversary!

What a crazy time of year to get married. What were we thinking?

Our anniversary always feels more like a hurried peck, squeezed in amongst the busy-ness that is December, than a slow romantic kiss. Too many other things on our minds--Advent observance, Christmas preparations and celebrations, year-end business to conclude, performances and parties to attend, extra shopping, menu planning and housecleaning, and travel plans.

It's easy to take "us" for granted. After all, we're not going anywhere!

But I thank God for my husband, who knows me better than anyone--especially the icky parts that I hide when outside of my own house--and he's still around.

I can't find an actual author for this quote--(who is The Great Kamryn anyway?)--but I saved it just for this post:

"The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you'll see their flaws. That's just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don't last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they’re out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship."

He could have jumped ship at many points in the past 27 years. Me too. By God's grace we've learned, over and over, how to find our way back through our own hurts and resentments to be with each other in all the pain of filthy hearts that are willing to trust that the other will forgive and love again.

It's not easy.

But I'm thankful to be doing it with him--my best friend.

Happy Twenty-Seven Years, Honey!

Friday, December 13, 2013


It's opening night! B8, Chicklet and I are ready!

It's opening night for Blondechick, as well! She's singing with the choir at three performances of this multimedia holiday gospel presentation this weekend.

And we have auditions tonight, too! Chicklet, B8 and B14 are all auditioning for The Wizard of Oz, the next Spotlight show (performances in early March). They'll go right from auditions to their performances--

B8 and Chicklet to Best Christmas Pageant Ever...

....and B14 to Ye Olde Christmas Feaste, an 8-course medieval feast complete with jesters, fencers, dancers, tumblers, beefeaters, litter bearers, stewards, pages, wenches, lords, ladies, brass fanfares announcing each course, and the accomplished and expressive Madrigal Singers, all elaborately costumed in medieval dress. Papa Rooster, B18 and Grandpa Rooster went last night and they said it was fabulous. The younger kids, Blondechick, and I are so disappointed that we won't get to see it this year because our performances fall at the same times.

Fortunately, as B14 says, "I'm so glad I'll probably get to do this three more years!" We'll look forward to next year.

B14, B8 and Chicklet potentially also have callbacks to squeeze into their schedule on Saturday morning, and we also have Grandpa Rooster here through the weekend. Papa R is doing photography for the Feaste and our show (photos soon!), plus writing a sermon.


So happy we are homeschooling and the younger kids and I, at least, have been able to adjust our schedule accordingly! Lots of intangibles to be learned from each production we are a part of.

We're on a break from Classical Conversations, so we haven't had homework and I haven't had lessons to prep--a nice break! We've been using the time for reviewing our CC memory work, pushing hard on math fact memorization, and keeping lines and auditions fresh and ready to go.  The kids have been doing lots of extra reading this week while I've been busy Christmas shopping (mostly online) and wrapping/bagging, and they also got out the paints several days this week. The word "bored" never crosses their lips!

Speaking of bored, my funny director sent me this note by email after I emailed her my bio for the program:

I did not realize you have six kids! And you're homechooling them???? I think you should get another side job. You probably have 23 min per day spare time, and I'd hate to see you get bored. LOL.

Speaking of quotes, two others really made my week. A little boy in my Drama 1 class, on his way out the door on the second night of class, told me (in a nonchalantly approving way), "You're a really good teacher." Then at one of our dress rehearsals for Best Christmas, a little girl, apropos of nothing that I could see--we were changing our costumes--said to me, "You're awesome!" I have no idea what she was referring to but I have to conclude that she likes my acting, because that's the only thing I do there besides sit and watch rehearsal or shush children backstage.

Encouragement! Everybody needs it. I'll take it!

So proud of my brood this weekend. Oh, that reminds me of another quote! One of my Facebook friends commented on my status about our schedule this weekend, "What a great example of how to use your God-given gifts for Jesus!" I certainly pray that God shines through us all in this performance-full time!